When Eddie was just over a year old and we were living in Spain, he suddenly went from loving food to becoming extremely disinterested. I thought perhaps he was teething but he wasn’t uncomfortable. I tried him with different foods. I tried him with his favourite foods. Nothing seemed to work. One day I had an epiphany moment as I was having dinner – eating alone is crap. There’s no sense of occasion – it’s a complete anti-climax. Food should be such a joyous part of the day but when you’re constantly eating alone, it’s depressing. Then I realised – if I was eating alone, so was Eddie. After that I made a conscious effort to eat at least two meals a day with him, and it worked! He fell in love with mealtimes again. It didn’t matter that we were eating different things, he just became more enthusiastic about eating, and so did I.
Dr Simon Poole is a family physician and author, and he consults to the food industry on matters relating to the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. When I asked him his advice on getting children to be more open to trying new food, his answer came down to meal times: “In cultures where food is really celebrated, mealtimes are usually a social event, especially at weekends, where there is a sense of community and family and the meal is a long and chatty experience…we tend to eat more slowly, and enjoy more in these shared situations – though I absolutely understand that for many of us who are separated from family, this is not possible.” He told me, “So, I advocate shared meals when possible (just having friends – other mums perhaps, round for some no fuss natural foods thrown together for lunch), lots of chat and banter, experimenting with all sorts of wholesome foods appropriate for their age – eating what mum eats and introducing lots of colourful veggies, sweet potato, beans, avocado, olive oil, herbs.”
My friend Hanna, a mum of four, says that when she wants her children to try new foods they will sit as a family and all eat together. More and more often, Eddie and I now eat the same meals, the only difference being I cook meat for him twice a week, but I don’t eat it myself. I’ve also noticed how well Eddie eats at nursery surrounded by his peers.
I’ve really found a lot of joy in cooking for Eddie and I’ve also found mealtimes more enjoyable by simply having friends or family over. I understand that’s not always possible as everyone is leading separate and often busy lives, so if we’re craving other company we’ll go to Pizza Express or Ask. They regularly run discounts and offers if you check their home pages or sign up to their email alerts.
Sometimes I find myself falling into old habits but as a rule we will always at least have breakfast together – which means no phones, and that I don’t cram half a piece of cold toast into my mouth whilst tidying the kitchen, it means I actually stop and sit with Eddie. Which I have to allow extra time for and be more organised but the whole day seems to flow better.
The pleasure of food isn’t just about what you eat (unless it’s an entire packet of chocolate hob nobs to yourself), the pleasure of food is also in the process of creating and sharing food with others, be it friends, family or your ‘plus one’.